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Sharing economic ideas

MIT pro­fessor and social activist Noam Chomsky said that America’s Founding Fathers designed the Con­sti­tu­tion based on the prin­ciple of pro­tecting the wealthy minority and sub­verting the pow­er­less majority.

“They wanted to keep med­dle­some out­siders from inter­fering,” he explained, noting James Madison’s belief that “power should be in the hands of the wealthy and people who have sym­pathy for prop­erty owners and their rights.”

Chomsky, who is known as the “father of lin­guis­tics,” addressed more than 300 stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff who filled the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room on Monday evening for the university’s inau­gural Boston Sym­po­sium on Eco­nomics enti­tled “The Effi­cacy of World Change.”

The event — which was designed and spon­sored by the North­eastern Eco­nomics Society, an under­grad­uate stu­dent club based in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties — also fea­tured pre­sen­ta­tions by Alan Dyer, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of eco­nomics, and Rory Smead, an assis­tant pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy and religion.

Viraj Parikh, the stu­dent group’s exec­u­tive director of cur­rent affairs, wel­comed atten­dees to the symposium.

The third-​​year eco­nomics major advo­cated for closing the gap between polit­ical par­ties. “Polit­ical labels demor­alize and hinder our ability to fix society’s prob­lems,” he said. “We should spread ideas that ben­efit the human con­di­tion as a whole.”

For his part, Chomsky focused on the con­cept of the pro­pa­ganda model, which he exam­ined in the 1988 book, “Man­u­fac­turing Con­sent: The Polit­ical Economy of the Mass Media.” The theory, he said, posits that corporate-​​owned print, radio and tele­vi­sion media manip­u­late “unin­formed con­sumers who make irra­tional choices” into con­senting to social, eco­nomic and polit­ical policies.

“The two goals of the public rela­tions industry are to under­mine mar­kets and under­mine democ­racy,” Chomsky said, adding that the industry is “designed to con­vince you that all kinds of mag­ical things will happen if you buy” par­tic­ular products.

Smead shifted the dis­cus­sion from the media to the envi­ron­ment. He employed the prin­ci­ples of game theory to explain how con­flicting incen­tives fuel cli­mate change, which, he admitted, is “too com­plex and too nuanced to be cap­tured by math­e­mat­ical tools.”

By way of example, Smead ana­lyzed the so-​​called Tragedy of the Com­mons, a sce­nario in which indi­vid­uals acting on rational self-​​interest drain a lim­ited resource in spite of the neg­a­tive long-​​term impact on society.

“Indi­vidual self-​​interest drives people to exploit their envi­ron­ment, which leads to a cat­a­strophe on a large scale,” Smead explained. “Making use of public goods is indi­vid­u­ally ben­e­fi­cial, but costs society as a whole.”

He offered a broad solu­tion to the dilemma, which was first described by ecol­o­gist Gar­rett Hardin in 1968. As Smead put it, “We have to change the interest struc­ture by aligning indi­vidual and social interest.”

Dyer offered an uncon­ven­tional solu­tion designed to pro­mote fun­da­mental change in the finan­cial sector, proposing a mon­e­tary system in which money becomes worth­less after a set period of time.

He referred to this par­tic­ular kind of cur­rency as “veg­etable money,” noting that “it cannot be used as a store of value because it lit­er­ally rots.”

“I bet you’re not going to hear anyone pro­pose this in the near future,” he added.

– by Jason Kornwitz

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